Ballantine, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-345-51951-1
Historical Romance, 2011
Never Love a Highlander, published only a few months after the previous book in Maya Banks’s trilogy about the McCabe dimwits, only demonstrates one thing: this book is so distressingly similar in so many ways to the previous books in this trilogy that, perhaps, it would be wiser to have spaced these books further apart.
In this one, the plot is a closure of sorts of the loose ends from the previous books, but this one can be read just fine as a standalone story. This story is composed of so many Highland clichés, you can actually correctly fill in any blanks with your familiarity with these clichés. Anyway, the plot. So, finally, after being pushed aside by the two older McCabe brothers for their various true loves, Rionna McDonald finally gets to marry a McCabe – the youngest brother Caelen. It’s not that she’s hopping with joy, mind you – her marriage is a political arrangement to facilitate the alliance of two Scottish clans as a means to cement King David’s position against the naughty men who find his presence on the throne most disagreeable. Rionna’s father is plotting, Caelen just can’t say the right things or do nice things outside the bedroom for so long, and thus, the story just goes on and on.
Reading this one gives me a case of the déjà vu. Once again, the author relies on the hero or the heroine getting injured for emotional drama, although it’s amusing to note that being married to a McCabe man is a surefire way to get a woman beaten black and blue within an inch of her life. The structure of the story, the denouement, the development of the story – all these feel recycled from previous books.
The story doesn’t just feel familiar to the previous books in this series – it also feels familiar because of the presence of many tropes and clichés. Once again, we have an initially disagreeable or boorish hero who miraculously transforms into a protective alpha male once he begins to appreciate his wife’s astounding beauty and amazing sex mojo, with the author blatantly revising history by having the hero, who initially wants nothing more than to pump the wife to his heart’s content before putting her at the fringes of his life, tell the heroine that he has loved her all along, ever since he first saw her. Of course, and I’m Ronald McDonald coming over to make all the kids in the neighborhood fat. We have a heroine who claims to be tough and capable of taking care of herself, only to prove the hero right when she nearly gets killed once he’s out of sight. Although, to be fair, in this story, the hero is at least partly responsible as he forces the heroine to give up her sword and therefore leaves her defenseless in a time when he knows that there are many people out to get him.
This brings me to Caelen. Oh god, what a foolish man. I don’t mind a romance hero who shows signs of below average intelligence now and then, but this man is as dumb as they come. He is politically clueless, barking at the people of a clan whose laird he has unceremoniously displaced while humiliating the ex-laird’s daughter before them, and then wondering why they aren’t welcoming him with arms wide open. He is a boor, constantly being rude to the wife and embarrassing her in public, and I can only wonder why the heroine can fall in love with him. Then again, he’s the only man who doesn’t beat her black and blue. He only cuts her down and hurts her feelings, which makes him somewhat better than those men, I suppose. Just like how Caelen miraculously transformed from twit to gentleman in the previous book, here he undergoes a similarly abrupt transformation by the middle of the story to become a complete 180. I don’t buy that transformation. Sex may do many things, but I doubt it can make a man aware of his follies. Caelen is a bumbling fellow who makes all the wrong decisions, and hilariously enough, he falls into the enemy’s hands in such an unspectacular manner. And this man is a laird? It’s probably a good thing that he can rely on his older brothers and Rionna to do his thinking for him.
At the end of the day, Never Love a Highlander is an average story that doesn’t bring anything new or interesting to the table.